SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Chile's economic summit took a diplomatic turn this weekend when U.S. President George W. Bush called on Asian nations to work together to convince North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
Bush made the appeal during a weekend summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group in the Chilean capital.
While the APEC meetings focus on common economic concerns among the 21 member countries, military and diplomatic matters often are discussed.
"The leader of North Korea will hear a common voice," Bush said.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington Bush in national address called North Korea a member of an "axis of evil" that included Iran and Iraq for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terror.
Bush met on the sidelines of the 21-nation summit with four Asian leaders from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea in the hopes of gathering regional support for his ultimatum for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il: return to talks on abandoning the program or face further international isolation.
"The message is clear to Kim Jong Il: Get rid of your nuclear weapons programs," said an emphatic Bush.
Meanwhile, the economic summit's main theme did not go unaddressed. U.S. trade representative Charles Zoellick initiated a spat between the United States and the Mercosur trade bloc - consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - saying it was responsible for the little progress made in talks for the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
The FTAA is a proposed 34-nation free trade bloc stretching from Alaska to the tip of South America that would include every nation in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.
The bloc was supposed to go into effect in 2005, but continuing continuing criticism of U.S. subsidies and tariffs - often led by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - have hampered recent efforts for its implementation.
Zoellick told reporters at the meetings that if Mercosur won't come to the bargaining table, then Washington would continue negotiating free trade agreements with individual nations as it has already done with Chile.
Mercosur President Eduardo Duhalde, and also ex-president of Argentina, called the representatives remarks "a product of post-electoral pride."
In other economic news: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi voiced his concern with Bush over the recent weakness of the U.S dollar, which recently posted an all-time low against the euro, saying it could make his nation's export uncompetitive.
The president said he would work to bolster the U.S. dollar and lower the budget deficit.
Meanwhile, the APEC summit leaders - particularly President Bush -- have been on the receiving end of some severe criticism from thousands of protesters who converged on the Chilean capital earlier in the week denouncing the talks.
Stone throwing protesters have repeatedly clashed with police using tear gas and water cannons several times resulting in some injuries and at least 250 arrests.
On a more personal level, President Bush himself stepped into the middle of a melee between his Secret Service Agents and Chilean security officials when a showing match between the two started outside a formal dinner for the APEC leaders.
"Chilean security tried to stop the president's Secret Service from accompanying him," according to White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan. "He told them they were with him and the issue was resolved."
Created in 1989, APEC consists of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.